A History of British Banknotes

The first recorded use of paper money was in the 7th century in China. However, the practice did not become widespread in Europe for nearly a thousand years.

In the 16th century the goldsmith-bankers began to accept deposits, make loans and transfer funds. They also gave receipts for cash, that is to say gold coins, deposited with them. These receipts, known as “running cash notes”, were made out in the name of the depositor and promised to pay him on demand.

Many also carried the words “or bearer” after the name of the depositor, which allowed them to circulate in a limited way. In 1694 the Bank of England was established in order to raise money for King William III’s war against France. Almost immediately the Bank started to issue notes in return for deposits. Like the goldsmiths’ notes, the crucial feature that made Bank of England notes a means of exchange was the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. This meant that the note could be redeemed at the Bank for gold or coinage by anyone presenting it for payment; if it was not redeemed in full, it was endorsed with the amount withdrawn. These notes were initially handwritten on Bank paper and signed by one of the Bank’s cashiers. They were made out for the precise sum deposited in pounds, shillings and pence. However, after the recoinage of 1696 reduced the need for small denomination notes, it was decided not to issue any notes for sums of less than £50. Since the average income in this period was less than £20 a year, most people went through life without ever coming into contact with banknotes.

During the 18th century there was a gradual move toward fixed denomination notes. From 1725 the Bank was issuing partly printed notes for completion in manuscript. The £ sign and the first digit were printed but other numerals were added by hand, as were the name of the payee, the cashier’s signature, the date and the number. Notes could be for uneven amounts, but the majority were for round sums. By 1745 notes were being part printed in denominations ranging from £20 to £1,000.

In 1759, gold shortages caused by the Seven Years War forced the Bank to issue a £10 note for the first time. The first £5 notes followed in 1793 at the start of the war against Revolutionary France. This remained the lowest denomination until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes. Instead, it issued £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period, as it was known, lasted until 1821 after which gold sovereigns took the place of the £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period prompted the Irish playwright and MP, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to refer angrily to the Bank as “… an elderly lady in the City”. This was quickly changed by cartoonist, James Gillray, to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, a name that has stuck ever since.

The first fully printed notes appeared in 1853 relieving the cashiers of the task of filling in the name of the payee and signing each note individually. The practice of writing the name of the Chief Cashier as the payee on notes was halted in favour of the anonymous “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of …”, which has remained unchanged on notes to this day. The printed signature on the note continued to be that of one of three cashiers until 1870, since when it has always been that of the Chief Cashier.

The First World War saw the link with gold broken once again; the Government needed to preserve its stock of bullion and the Bank ceased to pay out gold for its notes. In 1914 the Treasury printed and issued 10 shilling and £1 notes, a task which the Bank took over in 1928. The gold standard was partially restored in 1925 and the Bank was again obliged to exchange its notes for gold, but only in multiples of 400 ounces or more. Britain finally left the gold standard in 1931 and the note issue became entirely fiduciary, that is wholly backed by securities instead of gold.

The Bank has not always been the sole issuer of bank notes in England and Wales. Acts of 1708 and 1709 had given it a partial monopoly by making it unlawful for companies or partnerships of more than six people to set up banks and issue notes. The ban did not extend to the many provincial bankers – the so-called country bankers – who were all either individuals or small family concerns. However, the Country Bankers’ Act of 1826 allowed the establishment of note issuing joint-stock banks with more than six partners, but not within 65 miles of London. The Act also allowed the Bank of England to open branches in major provincial cities, which gave it more outlets for its notes.

In 1833 the Bank’s notes were made legal tender for all sums above £5 in England and Wales so that, in the event of a crisis, the public would still be willing to accept the Bank’s notes and its bullion reserves would be safeguarded. It was the 1844 Bank Charter Act which was the key to the Bank achieving its gradual monopoly of the note issue in England and Wales. Under the Act no new banks of issue could be established and existing note issuing banks were barred from expanding their issue. Those, whose issues lapsed, because, for example, they merged with a non-issuing bank, forfeited their right of issue. The last private bank notes in England and Wales were issued by the Somerset bank, Fox, Fowler and Co in 1921.

a British £5 note
a British £5 note

Colosseum ‘built with loot from sack of Jerusalem temple’


THE Colosseum, the huge Roman amphitheatre used for animal shows and gladiatorial combat, was built with the spoils of the sack of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, a new archaeological find suggests.

A recently deciphered inscription was made public yesterday as organisers prepared for an exhibition on the monument, opening next week. A feature of the show is a large, altar-like stone with a chiselled Latin inscription, which tells how a senator, Lampaudius, had the Colosseum restored in AD 443.

But holes still visible in the surface clearly corresponded to different lettering, this time in bronze, which had been previously fitted into the stone. After a long study, Prof Geza Alfoldy of Heidelberg University, working with Italian archaeologists, deciphered the puzzle. He concluding that the original inscription read: “Imp. T. Caes. Vespasianus Aug. Amphitheatrum Novum Ex Manubis Fieri Iussit.”

The translation is: “The Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus had this new amphitheatre erected with the spoils of war. There is no doubt what war this was, the sack of Jerusalem,” said Cinzia Conti, the director of surface restoration at the Colosseum, yesterday.

Ms Conti said the Emperor Titus inaugurated the Colosseum in AD 80 with 100 days of festivities, but his father, Vespasian, had first opened it in AD 79, shortly before he died, when it was still unfinished. The original bronze lettering on the stone altar would have been made for the original opening.

The sack of Jerusalem occurred in Vespasian’s reign in AD 70, when a revolt by the Jews was crushed and Jerusalem was captured by Titus. The temple was destroyed and a million people were said to have died in the siege. The Arch of Titus, at the end of the Roman Forum nearest to the Colosseum, commemorates the victory, and bas-reliefs show Roman soldiers making off with booty from the temple.

Two years after the sack of Jerusalem, in AD 72, work on the Colosseum, officially known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, began.

The Crab Nebula


The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus. Corresponding to a bright supernova recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054, the nebula was observed later by John Bevis in 1731. At an apparent magnitude of 8.4, comparable to that of the largest moon of Saturn, it is not visible to the naked eye but can be made out using binoculars under favourable conditions.

At X-ray and gamma-ray energies above 30 keV, the Crab is generally the strongest persistent source in the sky, with measured flux extending to above 10 TeV. Located at a distance of about 6,500 light-years (2 kpc) from Earth, the nebula has a diameter of 11 light years (3.4 pc, corresponding to an apparent diameter of some 7 arc minutes) and expands at a rate of about 1,500 kilometers per second (0.5% c). It is part of the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

At the center of the nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, aneutron star 28–30 km across, which emits pulses of radiation from gammarays to radio waves with a spin rate of 30.2 times per second. The nebula was the first astronomical object identified with a historical supernova explosion.

The nebula acts as a source of radiation for studying celestial bodies that occult it. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Sun’s coronawas mapped from observations of the Crab’s radio waves passing through it, and in 2003, the thickness of the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan was measured as it blocked out X-rays from the nebula.

Crab pulsar dazzles astronomers with its gamma-ray beams Researchers have detected pulses of gamma rays with energies exceeding 100 billion electron volts — a million times more energetic than medical X-rays and 100 billion times more than visible light. By Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts — Published: October 6, 2011

A thousand years ago, a brilliant beacon of light blazed in the sky, shining brightly enough to be seen even in daytime for almost a month. Native American and Chinese observers recorded the eye-catching event. We now know that they witnessed an exploding star, which left behind a gaseous remnant known as the Crab Nebula.

The same object that dazzled skygazers in 1054 continues to dazzle astronomers today by pumping out radiation at higher energies than anyone expected. Researchers have detected pulses of gamma rays with energies exceeding 100 billion electron volts (100 GeV) —a million times more energetic than medical X-rays and 100 billion times more than visible light.

“If you asked theorists a year ago whether we would see gamma-ray pulses this energetic, almost all of them would have said, ‘No.’ There’s just no theory that can account for what we’ve found,” said Martin Schroedter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The gamma rays come from an extreme object at the Crab Nebula’s center known as a pulsar. A pulsar is a spinning neutron star — the collapsed core of a massive star. Although only a few miles across, a neutron star is so dense that it weighs more than the Sun.

Rotating about 30 times a second, the Crab pulsar generates beams of radiation from its spinning magnetic field. The beams sweep around like a lighthouse beacon because they’re not aligned with the star’s rotation axis. So although the beams are steady, they’re detected on Earth as rapid pulses of radiation.

An international team of scientists reported the discovery. Nepomuk Otte from the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that some researchers had told him he was crazy to even look for pulsar emission in this energy realm.

“It turns out that being persistent and stubborn helps,” Otte said. “These results put new constraints on the mechanism for how the gamma-ray emission is generated.”

Some possible scenarios to explain the data have been put forward, but it will take more data, or even a next-generation observatory, to really understand the mechanisms behind these gamma-ray pulses.

The Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) — the most powerful high-energy gamma-ray observatory in the Northern Hemisphere —detected the gamma-ray pulses. VERITAS is located at the Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory, just south of Tucson, Arizona.

Astronomers observe very-high-energy gamma rays with ground-based Cherenkov telescopes. These gamma rays, coming from cosmic “particle accelerators,” are absorbed in Earth’s atmosphere, where they create a short-lived shower of subatomic particles. The Cherenkov telescopes detect the faint, extremely short flashes of blue light that these particles emit (named Cherenkov light) using extremely sensitive cameras. The images can be used to infer the arrival direction and initial energy of the gamma rays.

This technique is used by gamma-ray observatories throughout the world, and was pioneered under the direction of CfA’s Trevor Weekes using the 10-meter Cherenkov telescope at Whipple Observatory. The Whipple 10-meter telescope was used to detect the first galactic and extragalactic sources of very-high-energy gamma rays.

Floods? Whatever next?


The true cost of fossil fuel emissions, which has seen two centuries of meteoric advances in technology and living standards is now being counted in the billions that will be needed to build flood defences and relocate many thousands of people. Rising water levels, causing devastating floods are now occurring regularly in various regions throughout the world.

This weekend, more than 80,000 emergency personnel including fire-fighters and soldiers were on duty, working to contain the most dramatic floods in Germany in a decade. Thousands of residents were still unable to return to their homes, and bridges and streets were impassable in many regions of eastern and southern Germany.

Twenty people have already died in the floods across central Europe after several days of heavy rains. Thousands have been temporarily housed in emergency shelters waiting for the waters to recede so they can return to their homes.

High water levels were also reported in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while thousands of people in Austria were busy shoveling away mud left by the receding flood-waters of the Danube. In Hungary, around 2,000 residents of the town of Gyorujfalu north west of Budapest were evacuated because authorities were afraid the levees would not withstand the pressure of the Danube’s waters.

The rising waters of the Danube, Europe’s biggest river, were expected to reach Budapest on Monday, inching close up to the top of the river’s flood fences, which are 30.5 feet (9.3m) tall. In one of the most devastating floods, in 1838, the Danube killed 150 people and left over 50,000 homeless.

Similar and worse catastrophic floods have been suffered in China, Mexico, India, Australia, Chile, the U.S. and the list goes on. Predictions for the future are grim. Things are only going to get worse – or are they? In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city of London would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. In 1894 they could not have envisaged the birth of the motor car.

The Iter project is the biggest scientific collaboration ever. Using nuclear fusion, the project aims to recreate the process at the centre of the sun, converting hydrogen to helium with a method quite literally as old as the stars. The 34 nation collaboration, representing half of the world’s population, are seeking to create and produce a clean, cheap energy source for the planet and reduce the quantity of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Should this happen, it is predicted by some that the Earth would begin to cool again.

Staying with the Sun, some astronomers believe that the Sun’s natural cycles of sunspots and solar storms, point to a period of extreme cold or a ‘mini ice-age’ similar to the one experienced in the 300 years between 1400-1700.

If the ice-caps re-freeze and consequently, the water levels fall, maybe flooding would be avoided, but in 1400 there were 350m people in the world. Would we have enough fresh water for the 8bn people of today, or would ‘Water-wars’ ensue and water become as sought after as oil is today? And with all the cheap, clean fuel and the medical advances expected in the coming decades, how long before we are 20bn? Or 50bn? And won’t that present a whole raft of new challenges?

The floods are real and their consequences are dire. Their causes can be explained but using that evidence to forecast the prevailing predicaments of the future is not such an exact science.

The History of Porcelain

d7ad1e09d5Introduction of pottery Zen priests are linked with two very characteristic elements of Japanese culture: the exquisite simplicity of Japanese ceramics; and the polite formalities of the Tea Ceremony for which much of the pottery is designed. In 1223 a Zen monk takes a Japanese potter, Kato Shirozaemon, to China to study the manufacture of ceramics. This is a period, in the Song dynasty, when the Chinese potters have achieved a perfection of simplicity. The Japanese, in the same vein, will evolve their own styles to rival this perfection. The Japanese potter, returning home, establishes himself at Seto. This rapidly becomes a center for the manufacture of pottery, with as many as 200 kilns in the dtrict. Seto has retained ever since the status of the classical pottery region of Japan. Much of the early Seto output is temmoku – stoneware cups and bowls with a black or iron-brown glaze, in direct imitation of the contemporary Chinese style. This becomes much in demand with the increasing popularity in the samurai class of the Tea Ceremony, in which a mood of rustic simplicity is required.

Introduction of porcelain In the early 17th century potters succeeded in firing the first soft paste porcelain after the discovery of suitable raw materials in Arita. Within just 30 years, the production of blue-white porcelain was flourishing. Between 1643-1647, Sakaida Kaiemon developed the technique of polychrome over glaze enamel for porcelain. This porcelain with polychrome painting was appearing in various styles, such as ko-imari, with its sumptuous brocade style. In accordance with the changing wishes of the aristocracy to have an elaborately equipped tea ceremony, as well as the requirements of the urban elites for high-quality domestic wares, an innovation followed in Kyoto in the mid 17 century in the form of overglaze-decorated stoneware by Nonomura Ninsei and Ogata Kenzan. With their decorative styles, both artists and their pupils influenced the development of ceramics far beyond the bounds of Kyoto. Many potters from provinces were sent by their feudal loads or by rich merchants to be trained in Kyoto, or the Kyoto masters were invited to the provinces

The Thames Barrier

The Thames Flood Barrier is one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009. It protects London against surge tides from the Atlantic, and rising sea levels generally.

The need for a barrier was recognised in 1954 following disastrous storm surge floods in 1953, when 300 people died and 24,000 properties were destroyed. The then Greater London Council, statutory body responsible for flood protection from the 1960s, presided over an area of approximately 115 sq km below the 1953 river level.

Consultant Rendel, Palmer & Tritton first suggested a drop-gate barrier with two large navigable openings in 1958, which was rejected. The government appointed mathematician Sir Herman Bondi to review the situation. Following his recommendations, in 1968 the council commissioned physical model studies of the River Thames between Teddington Weir and Southend.

By autumn 1969, it was decided to site the barrier at Woolwich Reach and to improve the downstream flood defences as far as the outer estuary. Charles Draper devised the final design, using the shape of gas taps as his inspiration for the gates. Additional design work was by Rendel, Palmer & Tritton. Construction began in 1974.

The barrier has nine concrete piers and 10 gates, which together span some 520m from north to south bank. The piers are founded on steel cofferdams built on solid chalk 15.2m below river level. The iconic boat-shaped pier roofs are timber clad in stainless steel, containing machinery and lift shafts.

There are six openings for navigation, each with rising sector gates, and four non-navigable tidal openings, each with falling radial gates. Individual gates can be closed in 10-15 minutes, but closing the entire barrier takes one and a half hours, allowing for dissipation of reflected waves and equipment checks. Gates are closed in pairs from bank to centre. The optimum time to close the barrier is just after low tide.

The four central rising sector gates span 61.5m and weigh 3,300 tonnes each. The two flanking rising sector gates each span 31.5m. The straight back of each gate is at least 20m high, and just the paint can weigh up to 200 tonnes per gate.

Gates are recessed 4m into the river bed when the barrier is open to river traffic. When the barrier is closed, they are rotated up into the vertical position by pairs of yellow-painted hydraulically powered steel rocking beams weighing 49 tonnes. The gates can resist a maximum differential head of 9.1m, at which time each one transfers a thrust of 9,100 tonnes to the piers.

Construction work on the barrier was completed in October 1982, at an estimated cost of £535 million, with the first closure in February 1983. It was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 8th May 1984.

The barrier was out of use temporarily in 1997, after the MV Sand Kite collided with it in thick fog on 27th October and sank. The vessel was refloated and most of her cargo salvaged, and the barrier resumed normal operations.

Although futuristic in appearance, the barrier relies on proven engineering technology rather than innovation. Resilience and reliability, together with a rigorous maintenance programme —each component has its own schedule — should ensure that the barrier is operational into the 22nd century, well beyond its design life of 2030.

The barrier has been closed against flooding 114 times, although closures occur monthly for maintenance too. It protects some 125 sq km of central London from flooding, notably during the storm surges of November 2007.

Vector borne diseases worldwide

Despite centuries of control efforts, mosquito-borne diseases are flourishing worldwide. With a disproportionate effect on children and adolescents, these conditions are responsible for substantial global morbidity and mortality. Malaria kills more than 1 million children annually, chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa. Dengue virus has expanded its range over the past several decades, following its principal vector, Aedes aegypti, back into regions from which it was eliminated in the mid-20th century and causing widespread epidemics of hemorrhagic fever. West Nile virus has become endemic throughout the Americas in the past 10 years, while chikungunya virus has emerged in the Indian Ocean basin and mainland Asia to affect millions. Japanese encephalitis virus, too, has expanded its range in the Indian subcontinent and Australasia, mainly affecting young children. Filariasis, on the other hand, is on the retreat, the subject of a global eradication campaign. Efforts to limit the effect of mosquito-borne diseases in endemic areas face the twin challenges of controlling mosquito populations and delivering effective public health interventions. Travelers to areas endemic for mosquito-borne diseases require special advice on mosquito avoidance, immunizations, and malaria prophylaxis

Space Elevator

space elevator is a proposed type of space transportation system. Its main component is a ribbon-like cable (also called a tether) anchored to the surface and extending into space. It is designed to permit vehicle transport along the cable from a planetary surface, such as the Earth’s, directly into space or orbit, without the use of large rockets. An Earth-based space elevator would consist of a cable with one end attached to the surface near the equator and the other end in space beyond geostationary orbit (35,800 km altitude). The competing forces of gravity, which is stronger at the lower end, and the outward/upward centrifugal force, which is stronger at the upper end, would result in the cable being held up, under tension, and stationary over a single position on Earth. Once deployed, the tether would be ascended repeatedly by mechanical means to orbit, and descended to return to the surface from orbit.

The concept for a space elevator was first published in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and has since been promoted by legendary scientist and visionary Sir Arthur C Clarke. His proposal was for a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to the height of geostationary orbit. Like all buildings, Tsiolkovsky’s structure would be under compression, supporting its weight from below. Since 1959, most ideas for space elevators have focused on purely tensile structures, with the weight of the system held up from above. In the tensile concepts, a space tether reaches from a large mass (the counterweight) beyond geostationary orbit to the ground. This structure is held in tension between Earth and the counterweight like an upside-down plumb bob. Space elevators have also sometimes been referred to as beanstalks, space bridges, space lifts, space ladders, skyhooks, orbital towers, or orbital elevators.

On Earth, with its relatively strong gravity, current technology is not capable of manufacturing tether materials that are sufficiently strong and light to build a space elevator. However, recent concepts for a space elevator are notable for their plans to use carbon nanotube or boron nitride nanotube based materials as the tensile element in the tether design. The measured strength of these molecules is high compared to their densities and they hold promise as materials to make an Earth-based space elevator possible.

The concept is also applicable to other planets and celestial bodies. For locations in the solar system with weaker gravity than Earth’s (such as the Moon or Mars), the strength-to-density requirements are not as great for tether materials. Currently available materials (such as Kevlar) are strong and light enough that they could be used as the tether material for elevators there.